Smarter drivers and more aggressive policing were credited with cutting traffic deaths in Minnesota last year to their lowest level in 60 years.
The Department of Public Safety said 494 people were killed on Minnesota roads last year, a drop of nearly 12 percent from 2005 and the lowest number since 1945.
The overall death toll included 70 motorcyclists, 38 pedestrians, eight bicyclists, three snowmobilers and two ATV riders, according to the agency’s annual report on traffic crashes.
“It’s a move in the right direction, but clearly there’s still Minnesotans of all ages that are being killed unnecessarily,” said Capt. Jay Swanson of the Minnesota State Patrol. “While we’re happy to see the fatality rate drop, if it’s a family member or friend of yours that’s killed in traffic crashes, it’s still very disturbing.”
The state’s Office of Traffic Safety said the 494 traffic fatalities represented a decrease from 559 a year earlier came close to the 449 deaths reported in 1945. The worst year on Minnesota roads was 1968, when 1,060 people died.
Increased seat belt use and renewed efforts by police to stop motorists for drunken driving and not wearing seat belts were some of the reasons cited for the improvement. Other factors may be media campaigns aimed at educating the public and promoting safer driving habits, safer cars and advances in trauma care.
The seat-belt compliance rate last year was 83 percent statewide, according to the Minnesota Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report. Of the 373 motor vehicle occupants killed last year, 52 percent were not wearing seat belts, the report said.
“A lot of things are being done right, but obviously, if we’re killing over 400 people a year in our highways, there’s room for improvement,” Swanson said.
The state’s Toward Zero Deaths program had set a goal of reaching 500 or fewer deaths by 2008. The program has a new goal this year of reaching 400 or fewer deaths by 2010.
Swanson said it will be a challenge to reduce traffic fatalities further.
“We’re going to have to have everybody singing off the same sheet of music for this to happen, but I certainly think it’s possible,” he said.
The number of alcohol-related traffic deaths, 166, was the lowest since 1984. Last year, police across the state arrested a record-high of nearly 42,000 motorists on suspicion of drunken driving.
Lynne Goughler of Mothers Against Drunk Driving said that although she was happy to see alcohol-related fatalities drop, they still represent one-third of all road deaths.
“It’s so preventable,” she said.
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